A couple of decades ago, life for many was at a slow and easygoing pace. Business was sleepy. People brought ‘snail mail’ in and dumped that onto an ‘IN’ tray and looked hopefully at the ‘OUT’ tray for something to carry away to another station. Then, the world got connected! Sabeer Bhatia created Hotmail, the net went global, and the telecommunications footprint changed the way we connect with each other at work or away. In today’ workplaces, proficient English conversation skills are valued.
Today, for many of us, email is almost the only way it is. Of course, there are also Facebook and LinkedIn, text messaging, chat, Skype, and BBM. The list goes on. The fact is, we are connected. We still don’t understand enough about the ways in which these relatively new but immensely popular methods and mediums, that affect the world of business, talk. We know social media is an emerging market maker, a customer forum and many such. However at the workplace, barring a handful, most companies still expect employees to use email to communicate.
Many years ago, we were setting up a new business that touched various parts of the globe. Many of us were new to the wonders of email. I was definitely enamored by this new device colorfully decorating my PC screen. My biggest joy was reading a new arrival and dispatching it off to one or many fortunate recipients. However, and sooner than I had imagined, the pressures of business performance made us take a very close look at every activity that managers were performing.
We were worried that managers were spending much less time on shop floors and much more on the “bench.” Guess what we discovered? Since the arrival of email, volumes of correspondence had gone up thousand fold! With the many ‘Ccs’, the ‘reply all’, the ‘forwards’, the congratulations for a good job done, and the self-imposed belief that not a single email remain unattended, managers were spending a large amount of time on their email inboxes.
With email being the primary medium of communication today, the idea of email etiquette becomes very important too. So what’s all this talk about email etiquette? For something as old as maybe 20 years, how come there is even a norm? The essential fact is that good email practice is a must for every worker. It enhances productivity. It enables relationships. It builds a brand. The questions therefore are: why do we come to these conclusions? And, how do we avoid the pitfalls while gaining the benefits?
Lost in Translation
I am sure that is a familiar term. Many a time the spoken word, while sitting face to face, is understood differently by the parties communicating. Imagine then the opportunity of misunderstanding, that lies lurking in every email. I have heard executives say, “Don’t write anything in an email that you wouldn’t want to see in the newspaper next day.” You should have well refined English conversation skills so that any email written by you doesn’t leave room for any different interpretation. I burnt bridges with a friend and colleague when, in a fit of fury on a routine matter of disagreement, I shot off a terse email that I knew was reading wrong, even as I stepped on the send button. Too late, the words could never be recovered and a relationship was damaged.
Have you ever been known as the email “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hide?” The sweet, gentle, grammar correct, spell checked notes to the boss, and the terse lines carelessly hammered to direct reports. Everybody deserves the same respect. Email writer, you make your brand.
Refine English Conversation skills
Make sure to use correct spelling and English grammar in your email communication. It is also important to have good English conversation skills so that the English language used in the email is correct. It is always a good idea not just to do a spell check but also to read and revise your email once you have written it. In order to have a good command over your written and spoken English, improve your English grammar.
They are no different from the principles that guide all other exchanges in civil society. Respect people and their traditions. For example, it doesn’t hurt to add “San” when writing to a Japanese colleague. Respect their time. So, don’t “reply all” multiple times fixing a meeting with just that one person on the list. Respect the sentiments of all the others copied! A hello, thank you, or just the courtesy of spelling right goes a long way. Keep your mails easy to read, to the point, and pithy. A good test these days is whether your mails are “Blackberry or phone friendly”; if it doesn’t fit a small screen, it is probably too long anyway.
Think before you write. Once sent, it is gone! An email is an opportunity, don’t make it a liability. Finally remember, you are trying to communicate; sometimes you need to get those legs pumping and walk across for a good old chat, emailing is not a substitute! In other words, email is an optional compulsion; use it well when you need to.